Friday, May 1, 2015

Hysteria Unleashed ... The Crucible at the Guthrie (Guest Post!)

It’s funny, but during my viewing of The Crucible, currently being performed at the Guthrie Theater, a quote by Norman Bates--yes, that Norman Bates--came to mind. “We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”

The Guthrie Theater’s production of "The Crucible." (Charles Erickson photo)
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Triggered by a snippet of dialogue in the play, in some ways it beautifully describes Arthur Miller’s allegorical play. Miller employs the Salem witchcraft trials to parallel the Joseph McCarthy hearings and the blacklisting of individuals believed to be Communist supporters. This also became known as the "Witch Hunt," the search for subversive communists and the naming of names which was a necessary element of the effort to “out” these people. These events were occurring in the 1940s and early 1950s and were the impetus for Miller’s play. In time, Miller himself would be called before the committee to name names, which he refused to do.

The Guthrie staging is a strong production with a stalwart cast of noteworthy local theater talent. Even the smaller roles, which are key to the success of this retelling, are cast with adept actors who elicit strong performances, among them Raye Birk, Wendy Lehr, Peter Michael Goetz, and many more.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
But the standout in this stirring production was Erik Heger in the role of the tragic John Proctor. His sensitive, nuanced performance was a revelation and his anguish was tenderly moving even among this distinctive cast of theater professionals. He certainly deserved the extra applause and solo bow at the end of the show. I should say that everyone appeared to be on the same page at the end and felt that we had witnessed something grand in the theater with his towering performance.

All of the technical aspects of the show were noteworthy and came together as a whole. The set design by Richard Hoover was fittingly minimal and the surreal tree motif was an excellent choice and added a great deal to the theme of uncertainty and fear lurking in the wings. Jane Greenwood’s costumes were perfectly suited for the period and the lighting, sound and music all added depth to this unnerving drama of false accusations, of where being innocent before being proven guilty is not an option. 

Sadly, it’s really not that far removed from what’s still happening in society today. This is a good opportunity to see a stellar production of an American classic on the stage. It’s a long, but engrossing, and thought provoking experience.  (Contributed by Rickjallen.)